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The Difference Between Couples Coaching and Couples Therapy

written byErickson Coaching Internationalon 21/07/2015

As with all coaching vs. therapy discussions, the biggest difference between couples coaching and couples therapy is around goals.  

Coaches ask questions to help one or both partners in a relationship to improve something – for example, improving communication, personal growth or helping them respond to needs better. Improvement will be judged on metrics decided on by the stakeholders. Therapy is more about providing a safe space for people to communicate so they can resolve emotional issues or so that they can come to terms with something that is hard to talk about (e.g. a previous divorce, infidelity, illness or a death, etc.) or pathologies that are preventing someone from being happy.   Essentially, therapy clients are looking to heal; coaching clients are looking to get results (according to whatever goals they set); therapy clients want to understand why they feel what they feel; coaching clients want to take action to change their lives.  

Another way to think about this is to say that couples therapy is about dealing with unresolved issues from the past that are impacting your ability to be happy together, today. e.g. “You said you had difficulty trusting your partner because of how your parents treated you when you were younger. Tell me about that.”  

Couples coaching is more about assessing and adapting your habits in the present so you can get results you want in the future – whether that’s fixing something in the near term (e.g. “We want to organize our time better so we can spend more quality time together) or working towards something big over the long term (e.g. “How do I keep my ongoing conflicts with my in-laws from really hurting our marriage?”).  

It’s probably easiest to illustrate the difference with the kinds of questions a couples coaching professional might ask:  

  • What do you want to get out of this?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • What’s your goal?

Follow-Up Couples Coaching Questions and Answers  

  • So you want to spend more time together? If you were to look at your respective schedules today, how do you think you could make that happen?
  • You said you want Bob to listen more. And Bob, you say you are listening. In that case, how might Bob work to show he’s listening?
  • You want to stop stressing about money? What might be the first step(s) to making a plan to get your finances back on track?
  • It’s very common after having children that you’re seeing each other as ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, rather than the people you fell in love with. You want to feel that way again. There are things you might be able to do to re-ignite that spark. What might be some steps you can start, say, this Friday night?

In couples coaching, the end goal typically goes beyond open-ended aims like ‘feeling happy’, ‘coming to terms with the past’ or ‘getting closure’. It’s about helping your client to get measurable results, sometimes a little bit at a time, to help with the problems that he/she already knows are hurting his/her relationship – to achieve a brighter future.  

Relationship coaching is one of many niches available to students once they have completed their coach training. If you are interested in learning the foundation of any coaching niche, get more information about Erickson’s coaching programs.